Theft Prevention and Stolen Bicycle Recovery

Bicycle theft is a big problem in the Bay Area, but with a few simple precautions you can significantly decrease the chance of someone making off with your property.

 

Step 1: Register Your Bike

Registering your bicycle is free, and it takes just a few minutes via the form on our website at BikeEastBay.org/register. Having registration info on file means that you will be able to make a police report if your bicycle is stolen, and it also allows you to flag it as stolen so that the police or anyone else who finds it can get it back to you. Police departments can even Google search your bike’s serial number to find out if it is listed as stolen or not

In addition to registering your bikes online, you can also:

  • Write down your bicycle’s serial number, make, model, color, and other distinguishing characteristics, and keep this info in a safe location.
  • Take photos of your bicycle. This will come in handy if you have to describe your bicycle to the authorities and spread the word about a theft.
  • Etch your driver’s license/ID number into your frame, or write your contact info on a rolled up piece of paper inside the handlebar or seat tube where a thief is unlikely to look. This can help police link your bicycle back to you.
Bike East Bay is also offering free bike registrations in person at events around the East Bay. Check out this video from our 2014 Pedalfest event in Oakland’s Jack London Square, where over 250 people had their bicycles registered on the spot.
 

Step 2: Use a Quality Lock (NOT A CABLE LOCK ONLY!!!)

Cable Lock Picture

(photo by sacbike.org)

In May 2014 BART police received 53 stolen bicycle reports, over 80% of which were secured using only a cable lock. A cable lock by itself can be cut using shears in just a few seconds, and offers almost no protection at all.

Instead, use a high-quality U-lock designed for bicycles or motorcycles. Used a keyed, not combination, lock. You will end up paying $40 or more, which seems expensive but is a worthwhile investment to avoid replacing your whole bike due to theft.

Click here for a list of features to look for when choosing which U-lock to purchase.

Click here for a comparison of the top U-lock brands: ABUS, Kryptonite, and OnGuard.

In addition, we recommend:
  • A second U-lock, chain, or cable to secure both wheels and the frame.
  • Locking skewers to secure the wheels to the frame.
  • An additional chain or cable lock to secure the bike seat to the frame.
  • Keeping your U-lock clean and working smoothly by applying some bike chain lubricant into the keyhole and lock mechanism once every couple of months, or anytime your lock has been left out in the rain.
Anything that you don’t want stolen should be secured, or taken with you. This includes bike lights, bags, bottles, your helmet, etc. Talk to an employee at your local bike shop about these and other bike security options.

Step 3: Know Where to Lock Safely (NOT OUTSIDE OVERNIGHT!!!)

Of the 53 stolen bicycle reports BART police received in May 2014, 19% of them were locked up outside overnight. If you must leave your bike out overnight, use one of the inexpensive BikeLink lockers or rooms available at BART stations and other East Bay locations for only 3-5¢ per hour. Purchase a $20 BikeLink card which will get you up to several years worth of access at all of these secure facilities, with more being added every year.

Some BART stations provide free valet bike parking, and others have BikeLink card-accessed rooms. Click on the map below for more details.

Video: Secure bike parking at BART stations.

The rest of the time remember to:

  • Lock your bike to a solid, metal object (not a chainlink fence, tree, or wooden railing).
  • Use a bike rack. If none are available then permanent metal poles or parking meters work, if they have a top that your bike and lock and just not be lifted over, and bolts that can not be easily removed.
  • Shake the bike rack, pole, or parking meter to ensure that it is secured to the ground.
Do not lock your bike so that it blocks a sidewalk, curb ramp, or railing. In some areas locking to a parking meter is also not allowed and can result in a confiscated bike. If a rack is available, use it, and if there is not enough bike parking talk to the business owner or contact the city to request additional racks. Oakland, for instance, has an online bike rack request form that you can fill out online here.
 
Even though it might seem safer, many bikes are stolen right out of people’s own homes and yards. We recommend that you:
  • Lock securely to nonmoveable metal fixtures if storing your bikes in a garage or shed.
  • Do not store your bike in an outside yard or commons space.
  • Check to see if theft is covered in your home owner’s or renter’s insurance policy, for bikes stored indoors.
  • Ask your landlord to provide a secure bike room, if you live in an apartment. If there is one then use it, but still U-lock your bike.

Step 4: Know How to Lock Safely

Every locking strategy should at the very least secure the frame and rear wheel directly to the rack, with the front wheel secured to the frame or rack. Here are a couple options for doing so:

 

(images from sfbike.org)

Alternately, you can use two U-locks: one for the front wheel and one through the rear triangle of your frame that also secures your rear wheel. The lock should encircle the rim and not just the spokes of the wheel.

While no lock can offer 100% security, employ a good locking strategy that has “layers of security”. Thieves will try to steal the bike that offers the least resistance and attracts minimal attention in the process. So if you have a U-lock securing the frame and wheels, locking skewers on the wheels, and a cable securing the seat,  a thief will probably go after another bicycle that is poorly secured by comparison.

Step 5: Your Bike Was Stolen Anyway

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, a thief still makes off with a bike. Well don’t give up, as a little determination can greatly increase the chances of you getting your bike back. Here’s a quick checklist you can follow:

  • CRUCIAL FIRST STEP: File a police report. You might think that a police report is pointless but stolen bicycles are recovered quite often, and without proper documentation they can’t be returned to their owners. Also, theft reports help police know where and how to allocate their resources, making it more likely for them to crack down on the issue. It’s often better to file the report in person (which expedites the process to 1-2 days) via phone/online (up to 10 days).
  • Visit local flea markets to look for your bike right away. Some markets known for stolen bike sales are:
  • Post to the Stolen Bicycles Bay Area Google Group.
  • Join and post your bike’s info to these Facebook groups:
  • Check the Bicycles at Bay Area Flea Markets Flickr Group for your bike.
  • Register your stolen bike at BikeIndex.org. This is an excellent, free searchable online database that also auto-posts to Twitter.
  • Spread the word to your friends, coworkers, as well as to local bike clubs and shops. Post recent photos of your bike and info about the theft to social media and news outlets.
  • Scan local Craigslist and eBay listings to find your bike, using Google alerts or some other automated search tool. This can yield results even months after the theft.

If you find your bike we do not recommend confronting the seller yourself as they might react violently. Instead, ask the police for assistance, and bring a photo of your bike and your police report as proof of ownership to reclaim your property. Even if the seller is not the person who stole your bike originally, they still have no claim to the property and do not require compensation.

Additional Resources

Want to learn more? Sign up for one of our FREE education and skills classes at BikeEastBay.org/education, and earn a free set of bike lights or reflective gear!